As promised at the beginning of the year, C&EN is continuing its celebration of the 150th anniversary of the periodic table all year long. In honor of the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT), C&EN partnered with ACS on Campus to host a periodic table pub trivia event during the American Chemical Society Spring 2019 National Meeting in Orlando, Florida.
About 100 participants tested their knowledge against a selection of trivia questions inspired by the 118 elements that currently make up the iconic table. C&EN’s lead production editor, Manny I. Fox Morone, dazzled as emcee.
“The event was full of obscure facts, spirited debate, and a blinding glare from Manny’s red sequined jacket,” C&EN assistant editor Kerri Jansen explains in the latest episode of Stereo Chemistry. Inspired by the trivia questions, Jansen recorded this episode of C&EN’s podcast to examine what it takes to make a new superheavy element, tracking the making of new elements through time but also telling the tales of both well-known, celebrated chemists and unsung heroes who did behind-the-scenes work.
One of these unsung heroes is Clarice Phelps, a nuclear scientist who was part of the team at Oak Ridge National Laboratory that created element number 117, tennessine. She and others purified the radioactive sample of berkelium-249 from which tennessine was created. If you were not familiar with her name before, you may have heard of it since Phelps became the center of something of a media storm. This attention started after editors erased her article page on Wikipedia because they considered her achievements insufficiently notable. The page had been created because Phelps is possibly the first black woman to help discover a chemical element.
Her appearance in Stereo Chemistry was completely coincidental. We didn’t interview Phelps because of the Wikipedia controversy. We wanted her perspective on what it takes as a chemist to prepare nuclear targets and projectiles for superheavy element experiments. In our opinion, her achievements are worthy of an entry. Much to our dismay, Wikipedia has not yet restored her page.
Another way we’ve celebrated IYPT recently is by taking part in a science-themed Peeps diorama contest hosted by science journalism nonprofit the Open Notebook. Entries in the Peeps diorama contest honor moments in science using the popular bunny- and chick-shaped marshmallows. Given the IYPT anniversary this year, we decided to create a periodic table–themed display. We chose to depict the moment when Dmitri Mendeleev supposedly dreamed of the periodic table and then woke up and wrote it down. The diorama features a bearded bunny Peeps candy, asleep in his study with a whimsical cloud over his head. Inside the cloud is an early version of the periodic table surrounded by Peeps question marks, depicting the elements that he predicted should be in the periodic table but that hadn’t been discovered yet. Papers and glass flasks litter his desk as evidence of his experimental work. I’m glad to report our artwork received the Best Science History Award in the competition. I should also note that another IYPT-themed diorama took home the Peeple’s Choice award: Sally Mitchell and her students at Rye High School built an “exuberant interpretation of the periodic table,” according to the judges. Each element was a Peeps candy decorated according to its properties.
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